- Griffen, Clyde, Glasse, John, Marshall, Natalie
- May 8, 1984
/ ,’i y / epRfOgQVg t 5'-0,‘, 9 X‘ \i_ . v48 At a Meeting of the Faculty of Vassar College held May ninth, nineteen hundred and eighty—four, the following Memorial was unanimously adopted; Edna Cers Macmahon, Professor Emeritus of Economics was born 9 February 27, 1901 in Riga, Latvia, the daughter of John William and V Alvia Julia Lischmann Cers. Her family emigrated to the United States when she was a child and she grew up on a farm in Massachusetts. Edna began her long career of...
Show more/ ,’i y / epRfOgQVg t 5'-0,‘, 9 X‘ \i_ . v48 At a Meeting of the Faculty of Vassar College held May ninth, nineteen hundred and eighty—four, the following Memorial was unanimously adopted; Edna Cers Macmahon, Professor Emeritus of Economics was born 9 February 27, 1901 in Riga, Latvia, the daughter of John William and V Alvia Julia Lischmann Cers. Her family emigrated to the United States when she was a child and she grew up on a farm in Massachusetts. Edna began her long career of community service by sharing with neighboring farmers helpful information from her careful reading of agricultural bulletins. A favorite teacher persuaded her to change her original plan of going to a normal school; instead, she entered Radcliffe at age l6, working her way through college. A seminar with Frederick Jackson Turner inspired her life-long fascination with the influence of the frontier and of geographic mobility upon American history. At age 20 Edna began graduate work at Bryn Mawr On the Susan B. Anthony scholarship. The next summer, in 1922, she met her d d. . future Vassar colleague, Margaret MYBPS» when they b°th le 1S°“SSl°n ' d t Br Mawr. groups at the School for Women Workers in Industry hel a yn ' Ph'l d l hia when they learned that Y°u"8 "°men °n Strlke at a 1 a e P _ - ' 11 they decided Clothing factcry were being arrested illega Y» . - - ‘ themselves arrested at to provide publicity bY getting -2- the strike site. With support from a young male friend from an Old Philadelphia family, they began interviewing the strikers On the picket line. The police hustled them off to the city jail where they briefly sharéd a Qell next ta a young woman who called out cheerfully: "What are you in for? shoplifting?" The venture ended with a double standard in sentencing which left them furious; their male friend was fined, but the future Vassar economists were let off with nothing but an admonition. In 1923 Columbia University appointed Edna as the first woman to hold its Gilder Research Fellowship. At Columbia she studied under Wesley Clark Mitchell, pioneer institutional economist, whose course on economic theory provided the framework for her thinking about economics. From her studies with Mitchell and with two other famous institutionalists, Thorstein Veblen and John R. Commons, she drew the lesson that economists should be critics and shapers of the societies they study. In 1924 she accepted a fellowship from the newly-founded Robert Brookings Graduate School of Economics and Government, an experiment in studying at the intersection of theory and public policy. She received her Ph.D. in 1930 with a doctoral thesis on labor injunctions. While working toward her doctorate, she investigated child labor in Maryland and Delaware canneries for the Children's Bureau of the United States Department of Labor. She also worked for the District of Columbia Consumers‘ League in 1926 as it brought pressure for the enforcement of District laws on maximum hours for women. In 1927, while employed by the U. S. Chamber of Commerce, she began a study of immigrae tion which continued subsequently for the Council on Foreign Relations. But with teaching her long—term goal, she was glad in 1929 to become an _3_ inst - G ructor of economics at Hunter College. In that Year Edna married Arth P ' ' ur Ihlttler Ma°mah°n» then associate professor and subsequently Eaton pr°feSS°r °f Publi¢ administration a t Columbia University They had two chil ' dreni Gail» now livin ' g in Austria wh h ' ~ ere er husband is a diplomat, and Alan, now a physigigt at the University of Texas. During their childhood, the family lived in Croton where Edna helped run a cooperative school inspired by what remains durable in John Dewey's theories of education. She also ran an annual plant sale for the school notable for the stream of varied advice that accompanied her sales as she visualized each purchaser's plot, its probable disadvantages of soil or shade, and the owner's probable lack of time or knowledge. In later years members of the Vassar community would benefit from Edna's advice on gardening and from the well—developed aesthetic imagination which informed it. That imagination could be seen in the gardens and houses she arranged, and especially in the beloved cottage at Lake Awosting with its wonderful relating of domestic comforts, works of craftsmanship, and the natural beauty of the setting. While still at Croton in the late l93Os, Edna began to travel for research and for consulting assignments. In 1941-42 she served as Director of Research for the Division of Minimum Wage and Women ln h d d Industry of the New York State Department of Labor and also ea 8 . . . O . . . Off‘ f Price the EcQnQmlCS unit in the Consumer Division of the lce 0 Administration. Ed . . d the Vassar fagulty in 19142. At that time the Vassar na ]Oln8 . . - d . t Qf a joint department, economics an economics department was par -u_ sociology, which would shortly become the economics, sociology, and anthropology department-—B.S.A. Edna found the philosophy of the department to her liking. Abstract theory was not for her——she always regarded economic problems in the context of the overall problems facing a society. She described the introductory course in an article for the Alumnae magazine in l9H9: The teaching of economics at Vassar has always been directed, rather deliberately, toward a broad understanding of the economy as a whole, and to analysis and discussion of the major economic issues which confront our society. The introductory course, in particular, frankly aims to equip students to exercise their responsibility as citizens intelligently rather than to provide a mastery of economic principles. This does not mean that theory is neglected, but that it is constantly taught in relation to concrete problems to which it is applicable. The emphasis necessi- tates a continuous search for ways of making theory a more practicable tool in the analysis of current problems. Under Edna's influence the department introduced an introductory interdisciplinary course for the joint department, a course which flouished for a number of years. Economists, sociologists, and anthropologists together prepared the year—long introductory course and a required senior seminar. Students majored in one discipline. _5_ Edna's Special fields -'th' - wi in economics reflected her philosophy- consumer economics ' Amerwo ' ' 0 _ an economic histor ' Y» economic development. Her students were ' - - » ln the Vassar tradition, encoura ged to go to the original sources and th 9 ese sources were often Opepatin ' - - 8 lnstitutions in the community Field tri ‘ - ps to farms and factories were a re gular Part of Economics lO5 and Poughkeepsie residents were surveyed on a variety of topics. In the mid l96Os Edna worked with other faculty in the development of an interdisciplinary course on the river and its impact on those living around it. Her participation in the course was inspired by her long observation of the Hudson and her concern for it before "ecology" became a popular term. A late colleague said he always wanted to follow Edna around with a tape recorder for she was a veritable fountain of ideas. But she was interested primarily in people and in doing. Although she published several journal articles, she never found enough time for her own research, especially for her study of Poughkeepsie shoemakers which was in advance of its time in methodology. Her tracing of craftsmen over time through census and city directories anticipated by more than a decade the historical social mobility studies which became important in the 1960s and 70s. Edna retired from Vassar in 1966, but continued her teaching in the . . . H l d extensive State University of New York for three years er a rea y V _ . . ' sed. She had been activity in the community beyond the College lncrea t t f Dutohess Community College from its founding in 1957, a rus ee o _ _ . - ' d in its formative period. playing 3 ma]OP role in setting policy ur 8 ard for seventeen YEBPS, until 197a‘ She served on the BO ’”!‘\$4'- ~ 161 In government, she served on the Advisory Committee to the Consumer Counsel to the Governor of New York and, in Dutchess County, on its comittees on tax policy and on economic opportunity. Politically, she was an active member of the League of Women Voters and of both the Vassar Democratic Club and the Dutchess County Women's Democratic Club. She delivered countless addresses to community groups, ranging from the Dutchess County Council on World Affairs to the Newcomers’ Home Bueau Club, from the Anti-Defamation League to the YWCA, and from the Poughkeepsie Business and Professional Women's Club to the Dutchess County Grange Tax Comittee. The topics of these talks expressed the range of her concerns: consumer economics, anti-poverty programs, county planning for water and land development, integration and quality in education, and travels with her husband in Europe, Africa, and Asia. Also expressive of her concerns was her membership in the Poughkeepsie Friends Meeting. Bowdoin Park, on Poughkeepsie's bank of the Hudson, is an abiding embodiment of Edna Macmahon's care for the land and for the people of the place where she lived for nearly three decades. There, the Edna Maemahon Trail for the study of nature commemorates her leadership in reclaiming an abandoned waterfront for the use of the community. In 1978 Edna moved to Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, where she died on July 2%, 1983. \hntHal\h¢dlhnl\Qnin,\inIIl1l|\0@ll0II ‘A hnnbllho. muuuuuwuaumn-nmqgquq. luv-¢a\hnrabltl\y\olnbl1lanIpIo¢u\|uqq_|.@§ wwvh. tiwwbvlcw. mvvollwhaumualnauducn Ilnhattawoodtdltlno. !alt\lnba&—0Q\Qqﬂﬂ|p Dhﬂonlqnn QlI.1t1tohlothoIQ0lIUOl|ﬂOIlOd_l»ﬂﬁ onnnltyocvtoonlactlnnltajohugottnruﬂqnnlcilq honnnounoa Inopocthlly Ulﬂtﬂ, cub tum. Quinn <¥~i':- 3%” *5,